Results tagged ‘ Clay Buchholz ’

Looking Back on 2011 & Assessing the Off-Season

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘it might have been.’”

It’s truly heartbreaking to imagine what “might have been” had the 2011 Red Sox not suffered their historic collapse. Fans and reporters alike anointed the Red Sox as World Series champions before pitchers and catchers even reported. It wasn’t a positive attitude that permeated spring training last season. It was assumption. This led to the insidious sense of entitlement that plagued the players, fans, and media.

After the overwhelming success the Red Sox had this past decade–two championships in four years–fans and media started to expect championships. Everyone has expectations, but it is the attitude that fans, players, and media have toward these expectations that can affect on-the-field performance.

There is no doubt that Epstein assembled an exceptional team. But I think things started to go wrong when people started to prematurely compare them to the 1927 Yankees before a game had even been played. People forgot that baseball is not played on paper. The 2011 Red Sox suffered from entitlement issues.

The collapse was slow and painful. After an less-than-thrilling April that inspired doubt, the Red Sox turned around and had an incredible summer. I spent many summer nights watching Adrian Gonzalez litter opposite-field doubles; I watched Josh Beckett have his typical odd-year success (including a one-hitter), and I watched Jacoby Ellsbury earn himself second place in the American League MVP race. It was almost too good to be true. When the Red Sox started to struggle in September, I tried not to get too concerned because they always stumble a bit in September. I wasn’t as confident that they’d win the World Series without cornerstone players such as Clay Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis. I was 100% confident they would make the playoffs though.

September 28th, 2011 is a day that will live on in infamy. It was like watching an Aristotelian tragedy, but I doubt that Aristotle himself could write something of this magnitude. I thought I was still bitter about Vladmir Guerrero ending the Red Sox’s 2009 campaign, but I will never, ever be able to erase Robert Andino’s fly ball that should have been caught by Carl Crawford. But I was still confident that the Yankees wouldn’t blow a seven run lead to the Rays.

I still maintain my conspiracy theory that the Yankees blew their seven-run lead on purpose. You don’t just leave a fastball up in the zone to Evan Longoria. I try to be objective as a fan who hopes to be a sports writer, but that was the day I lost my objectivity. I cried. It was an awful combination of disbelief, shame, and shock.

As much as I have always thought that Terry Francona is overrated as a manager, I will not assign the blame to him. I don’t think he managed his pitching staff well (you and I both know that he always leaves pitchers in too long), and I think he plays favorites. Maybe I just love national league baseball, but there are so many times where a bunt would have been effective. And there is no excuse for Jacoby Ellsbury only having 39 steals when he had a career high on-base percentage. (Obviously Crawford should be mentioned when it comes to base stealing, but he had a career low on-base percentage).

I will also not assign blame to Theo Epstein. I know he has made some mistakes with free agents (see: Julio Lugo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, Bobby Jenks, no Carl Crawford is not on this list), but those signings were made with good intentions. Julio Lugo terrorized the Red Sox when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, John Lackey was dominant in the AL West, and Daisuke Matsuzaka had the same amount of hype as Yu Darvish had this year. I guess the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.This is why I hate long-term contracts though. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m the only person in favor of incentive laden contracts. It’s risky to base a contract on the past, no matter how consistent the numbers are. Would incentive-based contracts really be that radical? If a player performs as he has been, he’ll get the money he wants. But it’s not fair to pay guys like John Lackey ridiculous amounts of money if he’s not performing the way he did in the past (which is why he earned the contract in the first place). I digress.

I will, however, shamelessly assign blame to the pitching staff. There is no denying that everything went wrong at once. But the beer and chicken incidents that surfaced exemplify the entitlement issues that I talked about earlier. As unacceptable as it was, one has to wonder if the same reprimanding reaction would have occurred had the Red Sox advanced in the playoffs.

Josh Beckett can argue all he wants that the 2004 champions drank whiskey in the dugout. We have to assign context to these situations, though. Kevin Millar encouraged everyone to take a shot of whiskey before Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS to loosen everyone up. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and others lackadaisically drank during the game on days when they were not pitching. I know it only happened once or twice, but from a fan’s perspective, it just doesn’t look good.

Changes needed to be made, and I firmly believe that change will come in the form of Bobby Valentine. I was admittedly skeptical at first (though I was delighted that I no longer have to listen to him on Sunday Night Baseball), but I think that Valentine is the perfect man for the job. Go ahead and complain about his less-than-impressive managerial record (.510), but Francona had a managerial record of .440 when he came over to the Red Sox.

The thing that really corroborated my confidence in Valentine was his attitude towards spring training. There are more PFPs, he has already added two B games (my favorite thing–I prefer them over A games), and players will now ride the bus to away games rather than driving themselves. Baseball is a team sport, and the Red Sox did not play like a team last year. Valentine doesn’t even think, like many of his colleagues, that spring training is too short. You all know that I wish spring training lasted loner, too.

I don’t think that I am the only person that notices the tension that pervades the atmosphere of this year’s spring training. Josh Beckett won’t name the players he had issues with last season, and it’s not hard to tell that Crawford was disappointed with Red Sox owner John Henry’s remarks that he did not support the signing.

It was always clear to me when I attended spring training that Josh Beckett is the ring-leader. He has an enormous influence over the younger players, and this concerns me because I don’t think he is the greatest example. I think he’s a great pitcher, but I have issues with his attitude.

There is no doubt in my mind that Carl Crawford will bounce back this season. He is the quintessential five-tool player and an incredible athlete. I’m not trying to make excuses for Crawford, but I can understand why he struggled. Transitioning to a big market team is difficult enough, but Crawford also lacked the permanence with his spot in the lineup when he was with the Rays. For some guys that matters, others it doesn’t. I’ve gotten different responses when I have asked minor league players their opinions about this, and that is what makes baseball so interesting to me: it’s all relative.

I can tell that Red Sox players are sick of discussing the collapse, which is fair. But the success of the 2012 Red Sox relies heavily on the players learning from their mistakes, which I think they have. It’s also important to leave the past in the past, and focus on the future. That being said, before I discuss the minor leagues, I’d like to go through a couple of the (major) off-season additions, and how they impact the roster.

Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney

The Red Sox sent Josh Reddick, Miles Head, and Raul Alcantara to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. I really like this trade, and I think the Red Sox got the better end of the deal. It was tough for the Red Sox to lose Jonathan Papelbon, but we all saw this coming. He kept signing one-year deals, and it was obvious that he wanted to test free-agent waters unlike Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Clay Buchholz who signed multi-year deals before reaching free agency for the first time.

Trading for Bailey, who is still under arbitration, was the perfect way to avoid spending a lot of money on closers like Ryan Madson or Heath Bell of similar caliber. Not to mention the fact that Bailey is fantastic when he is healthy. There’s a reason that he was voted 2009 AL Rookie of the Year.

Ryan Sweeney is the perfect guy to platoon in right field with Cody Ross until Ryan Kalish returns to form. I think that trading Josh Reddick shows the confidence the organization has in Kalish. I think that Kalish is Fenway’s future right fielder if he can maintain his health.

Miles Head had an incredible campaign with Single-A Greenville the first half of the season. He hit .338 with 15 home runs and 53 RBIs in 66 games. He struggled, however, when he advanced to High-A Salem where he hit .254, and suffered significant drops in his on-base and slugging percentages. Obviously the pitching becomes a lot more sophisticated in High-A, but if Head tweaks his mechanics a little bit, I think he has the potential for success.

Raul Alcantara is still extremely raw with his mechanics, and the highest level he has pitched in is Short-Season A. It is unclear to me at this point how effective he can be, but he certainly intrigued me when I watched him at extended spring training as well as the Gulf Coast League.

Mark Melancon

The Red Sox traded Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to the Astros for relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Melancon had a terrific 2011 campaign with the Astros, and he is the perfect set up man. This trade obviously had personal repercussions for me since Jed Lowrie was my first “project,” and Kyle Weiland was my favorite pitching prospect, thus marking the second year in a row that the Red Sox traded my favorite pitching prospect.

Lowrie was always a health liability, and even though Weiland didn’t have success when he was in Boston, he showed a lot of promise in the minor leagues, and I think he will have more opportunity to succeed in a small market like Houson.

The Marco Scutaro trade

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a huge Marco Scutaro apologist. I think he was completely under appreciated during his time with the Red Sox. He didn’t choose the right time to commit his errors. He quietly batted nearly .300 last season, and he has always had a great eye. The Red Sox traded him to the Rockies for the irrelevant Clay Mortenson (though he is a former first round pick). I think the Red Sox could have gotten more for Scutaro, but they got what they really wanted, which was a salary dump, so I digress.

Mike Aviles and Nick Punto will platoon at shortstop. Jose Iglesias is not ready yet after struggling so much at the plate in 2011. No one expects Iglesias to put up numbers like Hanley Ramirez (ignoring 2011) or Troy Tulowitzki. He is heralded for his glove, not his bat. I think that the Red Sox were a little too aggressive in throwing him into Double-A his first professional season. Iglesias undoubtedly needs to see more pitching at the Triple-A level. His glove alone will not keep him in the majors. 

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I do not like Nick Punto. For those of you that wanted Scutaro gone, I’m telling you right now that you are not going to like Punto. He is overrated, and I will NOT be a happy camper if I ever see him facing a left-handed pitcher.

Free Agent Additions:

The biggest free agent additions were probably Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Nick Punto (whom I have already discussed), Vincente Padilla, and Aaron Cook. Ross had a down year last season, but his swing suits Fenway Park, so that will benefit him. He and Sweeney are perfect guys for platoon roles.

Kelly Shoppach is an alright addition for a catcher (he was actually initially drafted by the Red Sox). There won’t be much there with his offense, but he is superb behind the plate. Just wait for Ryan Lavarnway to come up, it won’t be long (I’m assuming he will start the season in Triple-A). It looks like Saltalamacchia will be the leader of the catching staff. I thought he improved A LOT last year–especially in the middle of the season when he actually started to throw out runners.

Vincente Padilla and Aaron Cook figure to be in the battle for the last two spots of the rotation. Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Ross Ohlendorf, and Andrew Miller also figure to be in those talks.

I don’t know if I can see Bard in the rotation. Bard consistently throws 97-100, and relies on the speed of his fastball to get hitters out. He is not going to be able to throw 97-100 for seven (ideally) innings. That being said, his changeup is typically 87-90 mph, so if he has to tone down his fastball for the sake of longevity, he’s going to have to adjust his changeup accordingly. He’s also going to have to use his secondary pitches more. He has a fantastic slider, but he lost confidence in that pitch in his abysmal September. If he can bring back the cutter, I think there’s potential for success. What bothers me, though, is that Bard resembles Aroldis Chapman and Neftali Feliz (both known for their speed), and neither have had success in the starting rotation. (Why the Rangers are trying Feliz there again, I do not know). C.J. Wilson had success in his transition because he didn’t rely as much on his speed as those pitchers do. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out, but I have my doubts.

Aceves belongs in the bullpen, in my opinion. His long-term relief is invaluable, and he was so effective out of the ‘pen last year. He can be a spot starter as we saw, but I think his spot is in the ‘pen.

If Bard is successful in his endeavors, then Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, and Bard would be an incredible rotation. If it doesn’t work out though, I’ll be nervous. I can’t say much about Aaron Cook and Vincente Padilla until I see them pitch in spring training, and I have no idea why the Red Sox re-signed Andrew Miller. I know he is a tall lefty with a high ceiling, but after a certain point (and a certain WHIP), you just have to let it go.I also cannot explain to you the logic behind the Ross Ohlendorf signing.

This offseason was extremely different from last year’s. There were no high-profile signings, just a lot of low-risk high reward type signings. It reminds me a lot of the offseason going into the 2008 season with the John Smoltz and Brad Penny experiments. Those did not work out. I’m confident in the offense, I feel pretty good about the bullpen, and Daniel Bard is pretty much the determining factor when it comes to my feelings about the starting rotation.

 

 

Series Win is a Step in the Right Direction and Minor League Roundup

The Red Sox may have won their first game–and series–over the weekend against the Yankees, but not everything has clicked in one game yet.

To start out on a positive note, Adrian Gonzalez cemented my approval when he bunted down the third base
line when the Yankees put the shift on him. Gonzalez has one of the most
seamless swings in the major leagues, but I’m a sucker for small ball. I
wonder if that bunt was his intuition or Francona’s.

John Lackey hardly kept the Red Sox in the game on Friday night giving up six runs over five innings on seven hits, but the offense was finally able to string some hits together when it mattered (ie. with runners in scoring position).

Such was not the case on Saturday night. On the eve of the announcement of his four-year contract extension, Buchholz only lasted 3.2 innings giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits. Somehow, I’m not too concerned about Buchholz getting his act together like I am about some other pitchers. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Buchholz to put up the kind of numbers he did last year (specifically the ERA), but I do think it’s realistic to anticipate great numbers.

Looking back to 2008, Buchholz is a completely different pitcher. He is far more comfortable with pitching from the stretch, and he commands an aura of confidence on the mound. There is no question he deserves a four-year contract extension.

Going back to the offense, though, the Red Sox stranded around 11 runners on Saturday night. The next night, the Sox left around 15 runners on. This is unacceptable, but the Red Sox were able to get away with it on Sunday night because it was finally a game where they weren’t trailing going into the bottom of the first.

On the bright side, though, Dustin Pedroia collected three hits in each game against the Yankees.

I don’t think anybody was expecting Josh Beckett to have the kind of night that he did, but he really proved a lot of people wrong. Clearly, he is not past his prime. He retired the side in order six out of his eight innings, and retired 14 straight after putting two runners on in the fourth inning.

Beckett’s velocity was great, but it was his off-speed stuff that was really fooling hitters. Nevertheless, he was throwing all of his pitches for strikes. There is no doubt that Beckett has what it takes to find the overwhelming dominance he had in his 2007 Cy-Young-caliber season or his 2003 World Series MVP season. It’s just a matter of executing and throwing all of his pitches for strikes. I don’t think he has turned into the Wakefield or Matsuzaka type of pitcher where he is either really on or really off.

Beckett has a lot to prove or reprove for that matter. There is no doubt that Jon Lester earned and deserved the honor of starting Opening Day, He is the ace of the pitching staff. I still think that Francona moving Beckett from the one-hole to the four-hole was a demotion of some sort. It cannot have been a match up issue with Texas because Lackey has historically struggled in Arlington. 

Perhaps Beckett will fare better this season without the pressure of explicitly leading the Red Sox’ pitching staff. When a team names their starting pitcher on Opening Day, there is an implicit statement that follows: this is the ace of our staff. Well, in his two best seasons to date (2003 and 2007), he was not the Opening Day starter.

I know this is a lot to say after one start. But this flash of Beckett’s characteristic brilliance of old erased all qualms I might have had.

Matsuzaka’s start, on the other hand, only confirmed my qualms. Giving up seven runs over two innings isn’t pretty, but it’s not like I have not seen the Red Sox come back from a 7-0 deficit against the Rays before. It’s certainly easy to blame Matsuzaka, but it is also important to notice that the Red Sox bullpen gave up a combined nine runs after Matsuzaka’s departure (only Alfredo Aceves is pardoned from this mess).

Despite Matsuzaka’s consistent struggles, I have a feeling the Red Sox will stick with him because of his contract. I know it’s frustrating to have him on the team now, but there is no doubt that it was a brilliant signing at the time (even though spending millions just to talk to him was ridiculous). The Red Sox don’t win the 2007 World Series without him. He was the Ichiro Suzuki of pitching in Japan. 

There is no doubt that Dan Wheeler has been brought into some tough situations thus far: mop-up duty last night, and lying in the bases loaded, no outs bed that Dennys Reyes made. I think that people have failed to notice Wheeler’s lack of dominance because of these already-out-of-control situations that he has been brought into. He has been tagged for hits in his outings. I think that Wheeler will prove to be a valuable asset down the line, but I think Francona has to define his role a little bit more. 

Minor League Updates

Greenville: On Saturday night, 36th overall pick Bryce Brentz went 3-4 with two triples and a double. Brandon Jacobs went 1-2 with a home run. In his professional debut, 39th overall pick Anthony Ranaudo threw five innings of shut out ball. He gave up three hits, walked one, and struck out four.

On Sunday, Brandon Workman made his professional debut. He gave up no earned runs over two innings. He gave up two hits, walked two batters, and struck out four. Felix Sanchez went 3-5, and Brandon Jacobs went 2-5 with a double and another home run.

On Sunday, Miles Head had an absolute monster game. He went 4-4 with two home runs, a double, four RBI and four runs scored.

 Salem: Salem’s home opener–and Drake Britton’s first start of the season–was pushed back a couple of games due to rain. Britton didn’t have a great outing, but I would attribute this to the weather and the uncertain process of warming up just to sit down again. Salem’s offense didn’t hit much on Saturday, but Dan Butler went 3-3 with a home run.

In their later game (the played a double header), Matt Spring went 2-3 with two doubles.

Portland: On Saturday, Will Middlebrooks went 4-4 with two doubles, a home run, and three RBI.

On Sunday, Stephen Fife, Seth Garrison, and Blake Maxwell shutout Reading. Alex Hassan went 2-3.

On Monday, Michael Lee gave up three hits over 3.2 innings and struck out four, giving up no earned runs. Ryan Lavarnway went 3-5, and Oscar Tejeda, who was off to a relatively slow start to the season, went 2-4.

Alex Hassan has gotten at least one hit in every game so far. Middlebrooks also had a hit in every game until last night’s. Who said the transition from Advanced-A to Double-A was the hardest? Not these guys.

Pawtucket: Tony Thomas, who was competing for a spot in Pawtucket during Spring Training, has hit two grand slams this week. In fact, he has nine RBI in his first three games of the season, and a hit in each of his first three games.

On Saturday night, Matt Fox threw six innings of one-run ball. He gave up four hits, one walk, and struck out four. In his second appearance of the season, Okajima threw another scoreless inning.  He also appeared in a game on Monday in which he threw a scoreless inning. 

Lars Anderson was 3-4 on Saturday.

On Sunday, Andrew Miller started and threw 3.2 innings. He gave up two runs (one earned), walked four, and struck out four. Rich Hill and Clevlan Santeliz combined to throw 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Hill struck out four.

On Monday, Pawtucket exploded for 15 runs. Ryan Kalish went 3-5, and Juan Carlos Linares went 3-5 with a home run and a double. Jose Iglesias also collected a hit after taking some precautionary rest due to a sore thumb.

Brandon Duckworth threw five innings of shutout ball, striking out three, and giving up four hits. Jason Rice pitched the ninth and threw a scoreless inning, striking out one.

Elsewhere:

On Saturday, Dustin Richardson threw 2.1 innings for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. He gave up one hit, one run, struck out three, and walked none. On Monday, he threw 1.2 innings giving up two hits, a walk, but striking out three.

I actually had the chance to catch up with Richardson during a spring training game. He said he wasn’t real excited about
the trade (ie. Andrew Miller trade) at first, but that he was happy and liked the organization. He said he was particularly excited because he thought he had a legitimate shot of making the team out of spring training.

Unfortunately, he was optioned to Triple-A, but I don’t think it will be a bad thing for him. Richardson was brought in sporadically last year and into tough situations for a guy fresh out of Triple-A. He dominated in Pawtucket last year during the first half of the season, leading the team in strikeouts if I remember correctly. Nevertheless, he never pitched the amount of innings in Triple-A that he did in Portland, so a little extra time will only help him. I have no doubt that the Florida Marlins will call him up soon, and when he makes the club, I have a feeling he will stick. The thing is, Richardson is capable of being far more than a lefty specialist. The thing that troubled him last year with the big league club was that they would bring him in, he might face one guy, walk him, and then they would take him out. He mentioned it was tough mentally.

It’s all about confidence with him. If he can get ahead in the count with his first pitch strike, he throws his curveball and changeup a lot more.

Casey Kelly started the season in Double-A for San Diego. In his first start of the season, he threw 4.1 innings, giving up three runs on five hits, and striking out one. Kelly spent all of 2010 in Double-A, but I think he could use some more time there simply because he didn’t dominate hitters last season the way he is capable of doing so. Plus, it was his first full season as a pitcher, so I’m not surprised that he is in Double-A.

Reymond Fuentes has gotten a hit in all of his games so far, and is batting .333 for the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm.

Anthony Rizzo has gotten multiple hits in all of his games thus far save one. He is also hitting .333 with two doubles and a home run for Triple-A Tucson.

Adventures at the Trop

The Red Sox have had a copious amount of injuries this season. Because of all the casualties, many minor league prospects, and some veterans, have been given the chance to show what they can do. Had Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, and Jeremy Hermida maintained a relatively healthy season, there is no way that the Red Sox would have seen Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, or Ryan Kalish. Sometimes I wonder if these guys–in the back of their minds–hope for injuries so that they can have a shot.

To be honest, I never expected Ryan Kalish to be up this year at all. Not because he is a bad athlete or anything, but because how meticulous the Red Sox are when it comes to development. He started the year in Double-AA Portland, and he was performing at a very high level. No doubt that he was going to be moved up to Pawtucket, right? Kalish transitioned seamlessly from Portland to Pawtucket–considered by some to be the toughest jump. I think Kalish was called up because the Red Sox were unsure of what they had in Reddick. Believe me, I think that he is full of potential, he just hasn’t had the at-bats to prove it yet. He has been producing exponentially better since he changed his mechanics after the All-Star Break.

The point I’m trying to make is that Ryan Kalish started the season in Double-AA, and now he is in the big leagues. I like to think that I have taken a similar path over the past couple of months. As you know, I worked in both Pawtucket and Portland this past summer. I was afforded unbelievable opportunities that gave me incredible access. I never expected to have that kind of access in the major leagues for a really long time.

Those of you who have seen my pictures on Twitter and Facebook may be wondering how I got that kind of access. Basically, Subway is sponsoring this webcast that is going to be an app on Facebook and on youtube called “High School Heroes” (that might just be the working title). I think what they are trying to do is find kids around the country who are just really passionate about something, and they are just really into it. So they wanted to follow me around at a baseball game and kind of see what I normally do. Stalking a stalker, right? Here is the catch, though. Somehow, Subway was able to get me an all-access (minus the clubhouse) media pass for before the game, and even an interview with a player to be named later (my favorite expression…) I was allowed on the field during batting practice.
 
IMG_5518.JPGI think the objective was for me to have easier access to the players to ask for pictures and what not. The only thing is that when I get a press pass, I switch into professional mode, but this was kind of difference. This press pass wasn’t to get me the kind of access that I got when I was at Pawtucket/Portland. This press pass to get me the kind of access I had at, say, the minor league complex, but with the major league players.

The first thing I did with this access was finally show Dustin Pedroia my Dustin Pedroia salsa. I didn’t have him sign it, though, because I was still kind of figuring out exactly how I was supposed to behave (for lack of a better word) with this pass. It was mainly an opportunity to discuss it with him.
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I decided to ask Big Papi for a picture. Never hurts to ask, right? There were some fans with pre-game access badges behind home plate, and he was over there as well, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to ask.
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Then I asked Jacoby Ellsbury for a picture. Obviously, he wasn’t playing in the game, but he was still taking batting practice. He was one of the nicest guys I met that day. It seemed like he cared about who I was, he wasn’t as dismissive as some of the other guys were (understandably so).
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I also got a picture with Victor Martinez. It was absolutely surreal to be less than a foot away from these guys. I wasn’t separated by a fence, and security could not do anything to me. There were tons of fans around hoping for autographs too. Because I was where the players were, I now know that yes, they can hear you, but they choose to ignore you. It’s understandable because they have a job, it’s just annoying realizing that some of my efforts of the past have been futile. Luckily, if you’re on the field, they don’t ignore you as much.
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Emperor Felix was also kind enough to pose for a picture on his way back from shagging balls in the outfield. Unfortunately, Michael Bowden was sent down that very same day, which was really frustrating because I had been really looking forward to talking to him. I wanted to tell him that I plan on writing my college essay about my first interview with him. The prompt is to describe a significant experience and its impact on you. I didn’t realize how big of an impact it had had on me until I was writing the essay.
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As Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish were jogging in, I asked them for a picture, and they said they would do it after batting practice. Before Nava went to batting practice, though, I was able to tell him how I was at his Double-AA debut. I was even able to show him the notes that I had from the game. We were talking about the first hit he got on that level and he said, “the ball found [him]” which I thought was really cool.
Darnell and Clay
(click the link for the picture via here
The interview with the “player to be named later” was Darnell McDonald. I was so excited to interview him, but at the same time, I was really nervous because I had no time to prepare the questions. I had found out about it about an hour and a half before. Luckily, I had my notebook filled with various questions from my interviews in Portland.
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McDonald is honestly one of the best guys I have ever interviewed. He is such a great conversationalist, and he seemed really genuine and sincere about everything. You can listen to the audio here: 
Darnell Interview.mp3
I asked him about his favorite major league experience. I assumed it would be either Opening Day with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009, or his debut with the Red Sox, so I listed those two options, but I obviously left it open for something else. He said his favorite moment was at one of the San Francisco games this past summer. In fact, I was at the game. Before the game, a young boy with cancer had given him a blue band, which he was still wearing. In his very first at-bat that day, he hit a home run. I remember being there for that home run, but I never realized it had that much significance to him. That was certainly beyond baseball.

I had access to the press box during the game as well, so that was incredible. I had never been in a major league press box, and I didn’t expect to be in one until after college. This was a nice taste. In the press dining area, I had the chance to speak with Amalie Benjamin, a writer for the Boston Globe. She was very genial, and she told me that she went to Northwestern (currently in my top two choices). Although she didn’t go to the Medill School of Journalism, she used all of its resources. I really enjoyed talking to her because I admire her writing, and she is someone that I look up to considering she is a successful female sports journalist.

I did not feel all that lost in the press box considering I had been in one a couple of times before. The only thing was that I didn’t have my laptop, but I was fine. I tried to keep track of all of the pitches in my notebook, and I kept score as well. I am definitely getting used to this.

There was only one bad part of the night. The fact that Scott Atchinson gave up a walk off home run to Dan Johnson. My father and I had driven four hours to see the Red Sox lose, and then we had to drive all the way back after a pretty devastating loss. It was such a great baseball game to watch, though. A great pitcher’s duel between Garza and Buchholz, and just back and forth baseball that kept me on the edge of my seat (even though I had to maintain some level of objectivity in the press box). I think the pros outweighed the cons in this case.

The kinds of opportunities that I have been getting for the past few months have been out of this world. I can’t thank the people of the various media relations departments enough to trust that I will be responsible with this kind of access. I don’t know if it all has set in yet. It’s really hard for me to believe that all this is happening, but I just try to go with the flow. I really think that it’s all a matter of taking every opportunity that you can get.

The Coldest Winters I Ever Spent Were Summers in San Francisco

Well, it has certainly been a while. I am actually writing this from the press box at Hadlock Field–where the Portland Sea Dogs play. I have a lot of stories to catch everyone up on, the next few entries won’t really correlate with what I’m doing at the moment. I was lucky enough to spend July 19 and 20 in Pawtucket. The first night I shadowed radio broadcaster Steve Hyder, and the second night I shadowed ProJo reporter Brian MacPherson. I swear I learned more in those two days in Pawtucket than I did all year (and I’m sure Portland will offer a similar experience). I had my first press pass, and that basically gave me all access. I was able to go into the clubhouse and locker room, sit in on press conferences with PawSox manager Torey Lovullo (and even ask him a question), as well as sit in on interviews/talks with Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick, and even Jeremy Hermida (who was there on a rehab assignment). Unfortunately, I was not able to see Michael Bowden or Dustin Richardson. Bowden was called up the day before my first day in Pawtucket, and while I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see him, I am more than thrilled that he is getting his well-deserved chance to be in Boston’s bullpen. Richardson was optioned to Pawtucket after my last day. 

Richardson seems like a good transition to the two games that I attended in San Francisco. Fate was on my side this time. The summer program that I attend–The Great Books Summer Program–is held at Stanford University, which is a short ride on the Cal-Train away from San Francisco. As soon as the Red Sox schedule was released in January, I scanned it for opportunities. I was mainly searching for games in Tampa, but little did I know that the interleague gods were smiling down on me. The Red Sox were not only going to be in San Francisco at the same time I was going to be, but they had a weekend series, so there was nothing stopping me from going. I bought tickets immediately, and they sat in their page protectors, collecting dust, for months. 
They were the first thing on my packing list for California, and I was hoping that I would have the opportunity to see Timothy Lincecum pitch. I felt so lucky to be able to see my favorite team play in what might just be my favorite ballpark. 
AT&T Park is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, and it is conveniently close to where the Cal-Train stops in San Francisco. It’s only about a block away, and one of the best sushi places that I have ever eaten at, Nama, is right down the street. My father and I arrived about a half hour before the stadium opened. Mark Twain was right: “The coldest winters I ever spent were summers in San Francisco.” 
As soon as I got into the park, I walked to the area where the pitchers were warming up, which was conveniently close to my seats. I was hoping for the chance to speak with Dustin Richardson, since he had gotten called up earlier in the month. 
I let him and Fabio Castro warm up for a while, because I didn’t want to interrupt their warmup. Luckily, a fly ball from batting practice did the job for me. After he fielded it, I called his name. He turned around and said, “Hey, what are you doing here?” I was mildly surprised that he remembered me all the way back from Spring Training. I told him I was taking some philosophy courses at Stanford, since that’s basically what we focused on the first week. He continued to warm up with Fabio. 
After he finished his warmup throws, however, he walked over to me and gave me the ball. He had to go run a bit and shag some balls, but before he left, I was able to congratulate him on getting called up, and his first major league strikeout. He also agreed to come back so that we could take a picture. I wanted to see if I could move a little closer to the dugout and speak with Nava, but at the same time, I didn’t want to lose my spot because I wanted to see if Dustin would stay true to his word. I decided to stay. 
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Dustin stayed true to his word alright. Not only did we get a chance to take a picture, but we also got to talk a little bit as he was signing for other fans. I don’t think the Red Sox were using Richardson as much as they could have (and probably should have since he is fantastic), and he didn’t really know the reason behind that. He mused that they were probably just taking it slowly with his development, and that he was happy to merely be up with the club. He also admitted that he did have a little bit of the jitters, and that he hoped that he could just shake them off and pitch. 
I really enjoyed getting that glimpse into what I think is the more human aspect of pitching. At that point, Richardson didn’t have that much major league experience under his belt, and I really appreciated his honesty. He was even like that in Spring Training when he honestly admitted that he still had some stuff to work on in Pawtucket. I’m no expert on this, but I would imagine that the pitchers who are honest with themselves and those around them are the ones that truly succeed because they will know when a change in their mechanics is necessary. Obviously, confidence is a factor for Richardson, and I think once he gets that confidence, he will truly reach his potential. I reassured him to the best of my ability that he was awesome and that he really had nothing to worry about. 
There are a lot of things that I like about interleague baseball. Mainly the fact that the Red Sox generally handle it pretty well. My distaste for the designated hitter and my advocacy of national league baseball is another story for another day. Another thing that I like is watching pitchers bat. It ranks among my favorite things. I thought Clay’s first major league hit was pretty special. What I don’t like is when pitchers pull their hamstrings while running to second base. Those kind of injuries actually kind of surprise me. It’s not like pitchers don’t run, but I suppose the type of running they do on the base paths could be completely different. What I mean by that is that you push off your foot when running the bases, and I bet that’s a completely different way of running for pitchers. Believe me, I’m not trying to make excuses, I’m just looking at all the possibilities. 
I practically had a heart attack when Buchholz came up short on his way to second. The last thing the already injury-depleted Red Sox needed was an injury to one of their most consistent starters. Scott Atchinson coming into the game wasn’t all that comforting either, but he really saved the ball club with a good three innings of work (if my memory serves me correctly). In fact, the entire bullpen threw well. Richardson got in the game and pitched extremely effectively: he even struck out Pablo Sandoval for his second major league strike out. 
I was even looking forward to Dustin’s first major league at-bat, but I was not that lucky. Francona brought Okajima in the next inning, which didn’t really make much sense to me. It obviously was not a matchup issue considering the fact that they are both lefties. Dustin certainly could have gone another inning. 
I hope I’m not judged too harshly for this, but I could not resist buying myself a Timothy Lincecum shirt. I wasn’t even planning on wearing it to Sunday’s game; I just wanted to have my favorite National League pitcher’s shirt. On the way out, there was another shirt I couldn’t resist: “Let Tim Smoke.” It was too good to be true,
and it was only $10. Granted I bought it from a street vendor about a block away from the park who may or may not have been sketchy, but it was irresistible. 
I was so excited for the next game because I had been anticipating an intense pitcher’s duel between Jon Lester and Timothy Lincecum. To tell you the truth, I didn’t want the Red Sox to knock around Lincecum. I wanted them to destroy the bullpen, but I was really in the mood for a pitcher’s duel. Unfortunately, Lincecum wasn’t at his best. He only lasted about three innings and 75 pitches with a balls to strikes ratio that was not impressive. That really surprised me though because who takes Timothy out after only 75 pitches and three innings? He clearly hasn’t been his best this year, and my theory is that he is harboring an injury and trying to pitch through it. 
Big Papi took Lincecum deep into the San Francisco bay for what they like to call a “splash hit.” Unfortunately, splash hits don’t count for opposing teams (even though the majority of them are illegitimate anyway because they were hit by Barry Bonds). 
Jon Lester pitched an absolute gem, and it game at such an opportune time too because the bullpen had been depleted just the day before. The bullpen was pretty much right in front of my seat, so I saw Papelbon pretty up close as he was warming up in the ninth. But I’m pretty sure that he spent more time watching Lester pitch than he warmed up. Let me tell you, it was an absolute honor to be present at a Jonathan Tyler Lester gem. 
One of the coolest moments of that game came before the game. As I walked into the stadium, one of my followers on twitter, @MisterLucky13 recognized me. It was a pretty cool experience to get recognized, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting and talking with him and his wife, Susan. 
Another cool moment was an unspoken conversation with Dustin. He had asked me if I was going to be there the day before, so he just waved when he saw me. And after he was finished warming up, he walked over and handed me the ball again. That really meant a lot to me because it kind of established an unspoken friendship. Those two baseballs that he gave me in San Francisco really meant a lot to me because they were emblematic of so much more. 
Those two games at San Francisco were so much fun because in all honesty, there is no better place to see a ball game. The food is probably among the best of any ballpark (try the garlic fries and lemonade), and the weather is practically perfect. I think my favorite part of the entire experience was being able to speak with Dustin Richardson. I was very disappointed to hear that he got sent down the other day because I think that pitched well in the few innings that he pitched. He certainly has pitched better than Okajima and Ramirez recently. Nevertheless, there are still some mechanical improvements/adjustments that he can make down in Pawtucket, and I have no doubt in my mind that he will be back with the big league club in September, and that he will hopefully start out in the bullpen next April. 

Lack of Offense Isn’t Hurting the Red Sox…

Yesterday, I received an email from the Red Sox Insider blog that I’m subscribed to, and it had some interesting statistics: 

The Red Sox are first in the Majors in both runs scored and hits. They are second in the Majors in homers and total bases; and they are third in the majors in slugging percentage and On Base plus slugging. 
However, when they look up, they see three teams in front of them: The Rays, the Yankees, and the Blue Jays. The Red Sox are in fourth place right now, and it doesn’t really make sense. Before the season even started, people were panicking about our supposed “lack of offense.” However, neither the Red Sox nor myself (among others) were too worried about the offense. As far as offense goes, there is not much to improve upon with those statistics. The Red Sox are in the top three in some of the most important categories. 
I must admit, though, these statistics took me by surprise; especially leading the Majors in home runs. I was expecting key hits and a little more small ball to get us through the season, not the long ball. I have also lamented many a time about the Red Sox’s struggles with runners in scoring position. Yet they are first in runs scored! 
So if the offense is so good, then why are the Red Sox in fourth place? It’s because the pitching and defense have not lived up to their expectations, and this is not Theo Epstein’s fault. He went out and acquired the best people he could find. Adrian Beltre is arguably the best third baseman in the league, but he already has an unacceptable amount of errors. Marco Scutaro is also in a similar situation. His eye and ability to draw walks from the leadoff spot has been invaluable and often overlooked, but some of his throws to first base have simply been atrocious. 
Now I don’t want to hear any of this “we should have kept Alex Gonzalez stuff.” Yes, he has been off to a hot start offensively, but his defense has been anything but pretty. Ever since Nomar Garciaparra’s departure, the Red Sox’s least solid position has been the shortstop. And it will continue to be this way until Jose Iglesias is called up. 
Mike Cameron has also made some critical errors in the outfield. Some of you may remember that start that Clay Buchholz had, and the easy fly ball that Cameron missed cost the Red Sox four runs. Honestly, I think that the Cameron signing was unnecessary. The Red Sox could have kept Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, and they could have platooned Jeremy Hermida and Josh Reddick in left field. 
Those of you who follow the Pawtucket Red Sox know that Josh Reddick is struggling with a sub .200 average. He literally had the best Spring Training of all of the Red Sox, and I think not making the team probably took a bit of a mental toll on him, which is totally understandable. I think that he was ready to be with the big league club this year (even if it was just coming off the bench), so when the Red Sox signed Mike Cameron, that probably came as a bit of a slap in the face. On the other hand, Hermida has had some clutch hits for the Red Sox so far this season. Many of the Marlins fans that I have spoken to were so glad to get Hermida off their hands, but I think that having him come off the bench has helped him out. The only problem is that his fielding is sloppy. 
The other problem the Red Sox have had is inconsistent pitching, as I have mentioned before. Josh Beckett, the supposed ace of our staff, was placed on the 15-Day DL yesterday; and our most consistent starter has been Clay Buchholz. A consistent, dominant Josh Beckett is essential to the starting rotation. Luckily, Jon Lester has significantly improved after his first couple of starts in April, but this seems to be a trend for him. John Lackey has been disappointing thus far. The Red Sox signed him to be like Josh Beckett, but at this point in the season, do they really want him to be like Josh Beckett? I just want him to be himself. 
Daisuke Matsuzaka is another story entirely. He had one extremely dominating start in which he struck out ten batters and walked none, but he was not able to carry that over into the following start. For the most part, he has had one bad inning in which he simply falls apart, and the Red Sox cannot have this in the starting rotation. Perhaps Tim Wakefield would be more effective in the starting rotation. Perhaps the only reason that it is Tim Wakefield in the bullpen and Matsuzaka in the rotation is because of the significant contract disparity. 
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A couple of roster moves have occurred over the last day or so. With Josh Beckett moving to the DL, reliever and man of the Vulcan pitch Joe Nelson was called up to fill that roster spot. Scott Schoeneweis, who has not been effective out of the bullpen at all this year, was designated for assignment. To fill his roster spot, SS Angel Sanchez was called up. By the way, I was very impressed with Angel Sanchez during the spring. In the minor leagues, Bryan Peterson was called up to Salem to fill Anthony Rizzo’s spot on the roster. Felix Doubront, who was 4-0 to start the season in Portland, was called up to Pawtucket. 
In spring training, there were about four guys competing for a spot in the bullpen: Scott Atchinson, Scott Schoeneweis, Joe Nelson, and Brian Shouse. I was not impressed with any of them. You all know what is coming: my argument for my projects. 
Tim Wakefield will be moving back to the starting rotation. This makes sense, but another option that the Red Sox have is calling up Michael Bowden for a spot start or two. Remember how I compared him to Justin Masterson? I remember Masterson making some starts in early 2008 and 2009, and he was really effective when the Red Sox needed him, and I have no doubt in my mind that Michael Bowden would do the same. 
The Red Sox could also use a solid, left handed reliever like Dustin Richardson in the bullpen. He has been nearly untouchable in Pawtucket, and I think that he could be exactly what the Red Sox need coming out of the bullpen. 
The last problem that the Red Sox have is an internal one. On Tuesday, Mike Lowell confessed his true feelings about his situation to WEEI. He basically said that he knows that he does not have a role on the team, and that he literally fills a roster spot. I know that this type of “attitude” can be detrimental to a clubhouse, but I think that Lowell is perfectly justified in voicing his opinions. He has had such a good attitude through all of this, and I do not think that it is going to have a real effect on how others play. Whenever he is put into a game, he puts in 110% effort. The problem is, he is rarely put into a game. 
With the re-surging David Ortiz, Mike Lowell’s playing time will diminish even more. Yet as he was speaking to WEEI, the said that he agreed that David Ortiz should get as much playing time as possible
so that the Red Sox can see if he is just going through a funk, or if his career is actually coming to an end. He obviously wants what is best for the team, which is why he mused that the team might be better off without him. 
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Look, I really like Mike Lowell. My dad and I call him the black hole at third base, and he is known as Mr. Double. *Tangent*: My physics teacher told me that he gave his Physics Honors class a question on momentum that had to do with Mike Lowell. The basic point of the question was whether or not the ball went over the green monster, or if it was a double. Without even thinking about the necessary calculations involved, I said that he would hit a double because he is Mr. Double. Unfortunately, I would have only received partial credit. 
Anyway, I think that Mike Lowell is right. I am sure that there are a lot of teams out there that could really use Mike Lowell if he was only given the chance. Consider the following hypothetical situation: having Mike Lowell play third base and having Adrian Beltre DH. I am willing to bet that we would see some pretty incredible plays from Lowell. Terry Francona was platooning Lowell and Ortiz for a little while when Ortiz was struggling depending on the matchup. But like I said, if Ortiz can maintain some consistency, then this will no longer happen. 
The Red Sox obviously want to remedy their situation. But going out and buying another bat or trading precious prospects for it is not the solution, and the statistics show you that.It is not realistic for the Red Sox to trade for a starter because four of our five starters are under big contracts. This is why I say we give Michael Bowden a chance. I know he can do it. 
The fact that the offense is performing so well and yet the Red Sox are still in fourth place further reinforces the concept that pitching and defense are among the most important components of a solid team. Hopefully those components, which look absolutely fantastic on paper, will being to look fantastic where it matters: on the baseball diamond. 
Before I go, I just wanted to inform you guys about a couple of things: First of all, I will be at the Red Sox vs Rays game next Wednesday night! This is exactly what I wanted for my birthday. My parents asked me what I wanted, and I said, “Tickets to the Red Sox game.” I have tickets 12 rows behind the Red Sox dugout, so I will be getting there when the gates open to get autographs. The only downside is that it is right in between my finals, so I have a French final the next day (four hours away), but as you can see, I have my priorities straight. And as far as summer plans go, I have been lucky enough to get a few opportunities. If all goes according to plan, I will be shadowing Dan Hoard and Steve Hyder, the broadcasters of the Pawtucket Red Sox, for a week; and Mike Antonellis and others in the media relations department with the Portland Sea Dogs for a week (or maybe more). 

A National League Team in the American League East

Amidst all of the stress that I’m dealing with right now, I figure writing about baseball is the best way to relieve it. Most of you who read my blog seem to be a bit older than me, so let me ask you something: Was May of your junior year the worst time of your life? Or is that just me? 

If it wasn’t for baseball, I don’t know where I would be right now. Not only do I have my two AP exams next week (Psychology and English Language), but the administration decided it would be a good idea to also make quarter testing next week, which further ruins my life. Not to mention the fact that I still have to worry about standardized testing because–like the Red Sox’s overall performance so far this season–my scores are mediocre and not good enough to get me into the schools that I would like to attend. I just can’t wait until the summer. 
On a significantly brighter note, I’m going to be president of my senior class next year. I only share this with you because the entire premise of my speech was baseball. Being a baseball fan gives you some of the qualities that are necessary to hold a position like that: dedication, persistence audacity, loyalty, hope, etc. 
Minor League Roundup: 
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The Pawtucket Red Sox moved Kris Johnson back to the starting rotation, and that has certainly paid off. In his first start of the season, he pitched five innings without allowing a run and struck out three. In his last outing, he went five innings and gave up three runs. I personally think that he is more of a starter, so I would like to see him continue for at least a while in this role. This will help the organization decide whether or not he will be a starter or a long-term relief guy. I think they need to decide his role relatively quickly so that he can continue his development without ambiguity. 
In Pawtucket’s relief department, both Dustin Richardson and Robert Manuel have fared exceptionally well. I have no doubt that Richardson will be called up at some point this season; hopefully sooner rather than later! I don’t hear about Robert Manuel as often even though he has pitched spectacularly. I think that he could also positively impact the Red Sox’s bullpen as well. 
Lars Anderson was recently promoted to Triple-A! He was quite literally destroying Eastern League pitching, so a call-up was inevitable! When he was called up to Portland last year, he struggled with the adjustment, so I was a bit nervous that he would have some problems in Pawtucket. Of course, an adjustment period is necessary with a promotion to any level, but Lars has fared well so far. 
Daniel Nava is someone you should keep your eye on. With a powerful bat, he his hitting .305 on the season with 29 hits, 5 doubles, a triple, and four home runs. I don’t hear as much about him as I do Josh Reddick, but his performance certainly warrants a call up soon! I would really like to see Ryan Khoury with more playing time in Pawtucket. I think he is a great player, but he has only played in nine games so far. The Paw Sox designated Kevin Fransden for assignment, so I hope we see more of Khoury. 
In Double-A, reliever Eamonn Portice has been very impressive. Starter and top prospect Casey Kelly has also been doing well, though he is on a very tight leash because his innings are being limited (since this is his first full year as a starter). 
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Catcher Luis Exposito has been on fire during the past week or so after going through a minor slump. Ryan Kalish has also been very consistent at the plate. 
In Salem (High-A), Will Middlebrooks and Tim Federowicz have had a great week and a half. Anthony Rizzo has been consistent at the plate for the season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he got promoted soon. 
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Daisuke Matsuzaka is finally back in the Red Sox starting rotation. In his first outing, he pitched fairly well until the fifth inning. In his most recent outing, his first inning was atrocious, but the rest of his outing was virtually flawless. 
While having a couple of solid innings are certainly commendable, it’s tough to say that I feel completely confident in Matsuzaka when he has barely pitched into the sixth, and he still has problems with walking tons of people. First of all, Terry Francona should have been more aware of the situation in Dice-K’s first outing. Typically, Dice-K starts struggling around the fifth or sixth inning, but it was also his first start of the season. That was just an ugly game, and Wakefield’s first appearance out of the bullpen since 2004 did not stop the bleeding. 
Like I’ve said, Francona always waits a batter too long to take his starter’s out. When your starter is around 100 pitches and he puts two men on, it’s a sign to take him out! Is it just me, or is that especially evident this year? 
This is also the first year of Francona’s stint with the Red Sox that he really has to put deep thought into the lineup and the pitching staff. It isn’t obvious where everyone should hit this year, especially with the demise of David Ortiz. The Red Sox look more like a national league team this year. Some of you may take this as a negative connotation, but I actually think it has a positive one! Admittedly, assembling a team like this in the American League East is a bit risky, but I do think it has the potential to work if it is managed in the correct way. 
Just because Jacoby Ellsbury is out of the lineup with an injury, doesn’t mean the Red Sox should stop running. Dustin Pedroia has stolen a couple of bags, and Marco Scutaro and Darnell McDonald certainly have speed as well. And honestly, Big Papi should start bunting more because his presence in the lineup will be much more effective. I would also like to see Jeremy Hermida in the lineup over Bill Hall. Hermida has been pretty effective as the plate and Bill Hall has not. 
Jon Lester has certainly started to turn it around in his past couple of starts by turning out very dominant performances. Buchholz has also been spectacular, which I love to see. I just hope Beckett can find his consistency, because he is an essential part to the starting rotation. 
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Lincecum struck out his season high of 13 batters. His slider and changeup are probably the most beautiful pitches I’ve ever seen. He might just be my favorite pitcher in the league. He is also one of the better hitting pitchers I’ve seen. He can lay down a perfect bunt! Maybe the Red Sox should take some lessons. 
I must say, I feel much more complete as a person now that I’ve seen Lincecum pitch in person. His delivery is one of a kind. I have heard that when he was drafted, one of the conditions was that the Giants would not change his delivery or his routine. Retrospectively, maybe the Red Sox should have done this with Dice-K. He was so dominant in Japan, but besides his 2007 season, his others have been subpar. I know that American baseball is different from Japanese baseball, but perhaps Dice-K would have fared better if he was allowed to do it his way. 
The Red Sox dropped the first game of the series to the Yankees last night. Beckett looked fantastic until the sixth inning. His only mistake was the hanging curve to Nick Swisher. Beckett simply lost his command. He should have been out after he hit Francisco Cervelli, not four batter later and five runs too late. I do not understand the rationale behind that! 
I fear that the Yankees might retaliate today, especially because Sabathia seemed to take personal offense when Jeter was hit by a pitch. Beckett clearly wasn’t doing that on purpose, so I hope he realizes that. Nevertheless, it’s all a part of the rivalry, and I’m ready for part two!
One last thing before I go. I would like to share with you all that I have been recruited to be a reporter for KidPitch, a show that airs every week on FSN. I filmed a report from about David Ortiz’s slow start to the season, and it will be debuting this Sunday. All of the other reporters are much younger than I am, but you have to start somewhere, right? If you would like to check it out, you can find your local listing here

There and Back Again

After all the fun that I had during Spring Training talking to some of the best Red Sox prospects, how could I not keep up with them during their respective seasons? From Single-A to Triple-A, I’ve been keeping up with these guys. The Lowell Spinners (Single-A) do not start their season until June, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of them are still in Florida at the minor league complex (I might just have to go back). 

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I will start with the Greenville Drive, the Single-A team in South Carolina (not that far of a drive, right?). This team includes prospects like Derrik Gibson, Reymond Fuentes, and Jeremy Hazelbaker. He started off the season pretty strongly, but he seems to be in a bit of a slump right now. He spent his entire season with Lowell last year, so I think that this might just be a small adjustment period. I have no doubt that he will be a big contributor for this team. I think the same goes for Fuentes and Hazelbaker. Fuentes was in the Gulf Coast League last year, and Hazelbaker was in Lowell for the most part. It’s the beginning of the season, and these guys are in the next level of the season. It’s normal that they are adjusting. 
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The Red Sox might have a 3-4-5 combination of the future with the Salem Red Sox. Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Lavarnway, and Will Middlebrooks have been tearing up the Carolina League. Rizzo is a fantastic clutch hitter, and has already collected eight RBIs on the season. Ryan Lavarnway leads the Carolina League with his powerful bat, collecting 21 RBIs, and has hit five home runs already. Middlebrooks also has eight RBIs with seven doubles. Tim Federowicz is a player to keep your eyes on. He is another great catcher that the Red Sox have in their minor league system, and he has also collected eight RBIs on the season. Pete Hissey and Ryan Dent have also been hitting well. Stolmy Pimentel is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA.
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Remember how Lars Anderson had a “disappointing” season when he advanced to Double-A last season? Well, he is back and better than ever! He is batting .321 with four home runs, five triples, and 12 RBIs. He has only gone hitless once during his last ten games. Luis Exposito has collected 10 RBIs, with two doubles and a home run so far this season. Despite having only one RBI, Jose Iglesias is able to get on base pretty consistently. Remember this is his first year in professional baseball. He never played in Single-A. Ryan Kalish has three home runs, seven RBIs, and a .391 OBP. As far as pitchers go, Felix Doubront is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA; Stephen Fife is 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA; Casey Kelly is 0-0 with a 1.08 ERA (he is on an inning count so he hasn’t gone more than 3.1 innings). Kyle Weiland struggled in his last start, but has pitched well otherwise. Eammon Portice and Tommy Hottovy have both been solid in relief, and TJ Large, who just joined Portland, worked 2.1 innings of solid relief last night. 
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The Pawtucket Red Sox are having Star Wars Day today. Star Wars and minor league baseball are pretty much my two favorite things in the world, so it deeply saddens me that I cannot be there. Darnell McDonald was tearing up Triple-A, so his call up to the show was appropriate, and he certainly made an impact (which I’ll get to later). Aaron Bates and Daniel Nava have both been hitting very well. Josh Reddick was struggling at the plate, but I honestly think that comes from how far he got during Spring Training. He’s on the 40-man roster, but he was pretty much the last man in Spring Training to be sent down. Even if he knew it was coming, that has to be very hard. He was also called up to the show recently (which I will address later). Michael Bowden has pitched effectively in his starts, though he hasn’t been getting much run support. Adam Mills’ last start was absolutely incredible: he pitched five shutout innings. Robert Manuel has been a star out of the bullpen. In nine innings over seven appearances, he has yet to give up a run. Dustin Richardson has also been effective out of the ‘pen. He is a lefty, so I think he will be up very soon. Kris Johnson has struggled out of the bullpen, but I think we have to remember that he was a starter last year. Now he is a reliever, and that’s a pretty big transition. I think it was a smart move to make him a reliever, but still, that transition takes time. 
On another note, Ryan Khoury is up with Pawtucket, which is great, but he hasn’t been getting many at-bats. I hope he gets more at-bats; he deserves it! 
With the unfortunate injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, some of my favorite prospects had their chances to shine. 
The five game losing streak that includes sloppy playing and terrible situational hitting prompted me to stage a hunger strike. I did have to sneak a bowl of cereal in the morning because I felt like I was going to faint. It was Darnell McDonald who allowed me to eat again. In his debut in a Red Sox uniform, he hit a home run to tie the game, and a single off the monster to win it. I have known the name Darnell McDonald since the spring of 2009 when he was playing for the Reds. Walk off wins are always fantastic, but they’re even better when they come from prospects (in my opinion, at least). 
Josh Reddick also collected a two run double that night. He has already been sent back down, but I think he should have gotten more playing time. Although he is not used to the monster in left field, I think he can still provide better defense than Bill Hall can because Reddick has an incredible arm. And although he has a powerful bat, he is also good for small ball purposes because he is a great bunter. I have no doubt that Reddick will return soon. 
Jonathan Van Evry has returned to the Red Sox. He started with the Pirates this Spring, and he was part of that amazing triple play against the Pirates. I’m glad that he has returned. He has done really well for the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, and I think he can serve the Red Sox well. 
I’m pretty sure three teams have had back-to-back walk offs this year–and April is not even over yet! The Pirates,
the Red Sox, and the White Sox have all had back to back walk off wins. While the first of the Red Sox’s walk off win was definitely cause of celebration, it was not the cure. Think about who had all of the RBIs: Jeremy Hermida, Josh Reddick, and Darnell McDonald. Either a bench player, or minor league call ups. We still weren’t getting production from the everyday lineup.That has started to change as of late; the Red Sox are starting to be more productive with runners in scoring position. 
Someone whom I didn’t address with Pawtucket was Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K has been very effective for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He only walked one batter in his three outings. His excessive walks have characterized him the past two years. He will be added to the Boston rotation this week, and Tim Wakefield will be going to the bullpen. 
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I think this move is smart. Wakefield is a versatile guy, and he provides the long-term relief that we have been lacking in the bullpen. Having a knuckleballer coming out of the ‘pen who can go 2-3 innings is quite valuable. His knuckleball simply hasn’t been effective in the starting rotation, though I think part of that comes from rushing to get the ball to the plate because so many runners steal on him. I also think this is a good move because Buchholz simply does not belong in the bullpen; he belongs in the rotation. 
*Update after finale to Orioles series* Wakefield’s knuckleball looked great today, and he should have been able to finish the seventh. His knuckleball was effective today, but like I said, he could be really valuable out of the ‘pen. You have hitters who are used to seeing fastballs in the 90′s with spin, and then suddenly, a guy comes in throwing knuckleballs. And since he is a reliever, opposing hitters won’t be able to tie him down. This could work. 
Despite Buchholz’s latest loss, he still turned out a stellar performance; including a career high ten strikeouts. I think that Terry Francona has to be a little more conscious of when to take his starters out. He always waits too long. When it’s the seventh inning and your starter has just put two men on and is over 100 pitches, it might be time to take him out. 
Finally I want to address David Ortiz. After constant frustrations and struggles, Francona finally pinch hit for him, and even kept him out of the lineup for consecutive days. Ortiz is despondent, embarrassed, and frustrated among other things. I have no doubt that he is trying his hardest, but sometimes it is simply necessary to bench players despite their efforts if they are not being effective. After being benched for two games, Papi responded with a home run in his first at-bat off of Jeremy Guthrie. Again, this does not mean that everything is OK, but it is an improvement from last year’s home run drought. I think the fact that he was pinch hit for signals the start experimentation at the designated hitter position. We are going to see a lot of different lineups. 
The finale of the Orioles vs Red Sox series is going to start in about 20 minutes. While I wait for the game to start, I would just like to share with you the latest baseball statistic. There is a fascinating negative correlation between the start of baseball season and my grades (especially Physics). This is especially remarkable in Physics because afternoon games tend to fall around the same time that Physics does. Not to mention I hate Physics almost as much as I hate the Yankees. 

Skeptics and True Believers

Skepticism and analysis surround every team as the second week of the season comes to an end. I guess I’m here to join the party–mainly for analysis, not for skepticism. It’s easy to analyze halfway through the season, but only two weeks into the season seems a little rash, doesn’t it? Is it appropriate to analyze, criticize, and skepticize (yes, made up word) already? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s appropriate to offer some analysis because the Red Sox have made some easily preventable mistakes that have led to run scoring. And even though it’s early on, there are some serious, and unfortunately controversial issues that need to be addressed. It may be the beginning of the season, but every game counts. These games count as much as they do in September. Each game is of vital importance as each team tries to avoid the obstacles on the road to the postseason. I don’t agree with those who say, “It’s the beginning of the season, they’re just adjusting.” That’s what Spring Training is for. Ideally, teams should work out their kinks during Spring Training. Inevitably, obstacles will arise during the regular season, so I’m here to try and work those out. 

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Let’s tackle the obvious topic first: David Ortiz. I think he has felt under pressure to perform since the first game of the season. Because of the dismal numbers he put up last season, all reporters ever asked him about during the Spring was his rebound. It is easy to tell how insecure about this situation he is. He snapped at reporters the second day of the season; he got ejected from a game for arguing about a strike; and it is easy to spot the frustrated grimace on his face each time he strikes out. I don’t blame him for feeling pressure, but I’m surprised about how much it’s getting to him. 
I won’t ignore the few hits that he has gotten: some have been solid contact, but others were pure luck. He even picked up the golden sombrero one game where he struck out four times: that’s the problem. He strikes out, and for the most time, he strikes out looking. I’m no hitting guru, so I’m not here to talk mechanics. The fact of the matter is that having him in our lineup is ineffective, and at times, detrimental. So why does Terry Francona put him in the lineup day after day? I think that part of it comes from seniority. Maybe Terry Francona thinks that maybe Big Papi is just going to get out of his funk because of what he has done in the past. But this is the third year in a row that this has been going on. As much as it pains me to say this, he is done. 
I’m sure it will be tough to sit him, but it is necessary. It is important to put the best lineup out there, and putting Big Papi in there does not get the job done. I like the idea of platooning Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida at that spot. Hermida has proved himself to be a fantastic pickup coming off the bench for Jacoby Ellsbury while he is injured. I can see him hitting a lot of doubles off the Green Monster. 
Issue number two: The Bullpen. 

Last year, the bullpen was considered our strongest asset. This year, it has been one of the weakest. I don’t think that the loss of Takashi Saito or Billy Wagner really affects that; however, the loss of Justin Masterson does. I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m going to say. Bring up Michael Bowden! We need a long-term middle relief pitcher; especially if our starters are done after the fifth inning because they throw 30 pitches in an inning or two. The Red Sox obviously expect to use him as a middle reliever, so what I don’t understand is why they’re still treating him as a starter in Pawtucket. I think that for a pitcher to be completely effective, they have to know their role (no matter how good they are). Just look how good Justin Masterson is doing with Cleveland now that they have explicitly deemed him a starter. I have no doubt that Bowden has the ability to flourish in either role, but he will be more effective once they tell him what his role actually is so that he doesn’t have to keep switching. 
Ramon Ramirez has been struggling so far, so I really hope that he finds his stuff because he was the unsung hero of last year. Manny Delcarmen still struggles to be consistent, but he has the ability to go multiple innings, which is important. I prefer him over Scott Atchinson anyway. I think that Robert Manuel, now pitching in Pawtucket, could be really effective in the bullpen if he was given a chance.
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I know Daniel Bard is very good, but the Red Sox need to use him a little more sparingly. The poor guy has been used so much already this season. He has a wicked slider, but I’d like to see him add a changeup to his repertoire because the radar gun is almost always 90 mph or above, and having that speed constantly will almost surely lead to giving up more home runs. 
My final issue with the bullpen includes Victor Martinez as well. When it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, all he ever calls are fastballs. Papelbon also has a slider and a changeup in his arsenal, so I think that it’s important that he incorporates those as well to avoid meltdowns. I’m sure you all remember his most infamous blown save, and all Victor Martinez called was fastball, after, fastball, after fastball. 
Issue Number 3: Throwing people out
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Neither Victor Martinez nor Jason Varitek have the ability to throw runners out, and every team knows it. Victor obviously needs to work on his mechanics considering all of his throws are high and to the right. This could create a serious problem. First of all, because the runners can steal so easily, the possibility of inning ending double plays are eliminated, which means that our pitchers will have to work longer, and that we might have to use our bullpen earlier. 
Also, pitching from the stretch is a tough thing for lots of pitchers. I especially noticed that with Clay Buchholz during the Spring, and even he has admitted that it’s something he needs to work on. The pitchers obviously don’t want the runners to steal, so they might feel added pressure to get the ball to the plate quicker. This situation could have disastrous consequences. It is important that the pitchers don’t think about anything but hitting their spots. 
If this becomes a serious problem, the Red Sox do have some catching talent in the minors (with arms) in both Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito. Luis is definitely someone to get excited about, but he still needs some seasoning. Mark Wagner, on the other hand, is in Pawtucket, and I think he is ready to go. 
Issue Number 4: Leaving runners on
Some bats have been quiet (Big Papi), some have been loud (Dustin Pedroia), but the Red Sox have left so many runners on, but I think there is an easy solution that Terry Francona hasn’t seen yet because he is an American League manager: small ball. 
Because the Red Sox focused on improving defense during the offseason, they aren’t full of the 30-40 HR power bats. However, that’s not to say that they aren’t offensively sophisticated. They have the ability to score a lot of runs this season, but it won’t come from lots of long balls. Rarely, if ever, do you see the Red Sox lay down a solid bunt. Perhaps the Red Sox wouldn’t leave as many runners on if they started sacrificially advancing runners more often. I LOVE this kind of baseball; I find it to be the most exciting, and I think that it is a method that the Red Sox must begin to incorporate. 
Those are the biggest issues that I see so far. The defense hasn’t been as spotless as expected, but I think that these acquisitions will pay off in the long run (despite some costly errors early on). Perhaps they’re still adjusting the the eccentricities of Fenway. It’s the big errors that stand out, not the rest of the times that they make the often spectacular play. The last issue I notice (though it hasn’t made much of a signifiant impact) is that sometimes, Adrian Beltre simply swings at terrible pitches. He has been hitting really well thus far though, so I’m not complaining yet. 
Amidst all of my criticisms and analyses, I do have some praise (some of which I have already mentioned): 
-Dustin Pedroia is off to a monstrous start. Contrary to popular belief, he can hit the high inside fastball! 
-Jeremy Hermida has been an extremely valuable asset off the bench. I think he will flourish in Fenway Park. 
-Daniel Bard has been a workhorse. 
-Josh Beckett’s 75 mph curveball his a thing of beauty. I’m so glad we signed him to a 4 year deal. 
-Jacoby Ellsbury was really catching on fire before that unfortunate collision between him and Beltre that has sidelined him since. I really hope that he heals soon, because I really like having him in the leadoff spot. 
I may be skeptical, but I’m a true believer in this Red Sox squad. 
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One more thing before I settle down to watch the final game of what has been a frustrating series against the Rays so far. Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the 2010 MLB season, and the first in Rockies history. Thanks to the twittersphere, I was clued in, and I was able to watch the final three outs of the bottom of the ninth inning. Of course, MLBTV froze up right as Brian McCann hit the ball to second, but I heard it, and that’s just as special. He has been compared to Pedro Martinez, and considering the velocity he had on his fastball so late into the game (and after so many pitches), I have no doubt. As I watched the bottom of the ninth inning, I could feel my heart beating quicker with each out, and my hands shaking  more and more before each pitch was thrown. 
April 17th was an incredible day to be a baseball fan. Tim Lincecum had three hits and three RBIs. The Pirates walked off for the second game in a row thanks to Garrett Jones. The Mets vs Cardinals game went into the 20th inning. The Mets scored both of their runs on sacrifice flies. And Ubaldo Jimenez stunned the Braves lineup. This is what we live for 

The Pursuit of Happiness

I didn’t think Spring Training could get any more intimate than City of Palms Park. Autographs are more of a commodity than they are during the regular season, and no matter where you sit (from my experience, at least), you’ve got a pretty nice view. I thought that way until I decided to take a left on Edison Avenue rather than a right, and I was headed down to the Players’ Development Complex. 

I could have just gone to the ballpark: making vain attempts at getting autographs, and getting the “give me a second” finger from the more renowned stars. I had been pretty comfortable with doing that in the past: I knew the best places to get autographs, and even if I only got a couple, it was still fun talking to the fans I was with. I decided to step out of the box when I went down to the complex, and do some exploring.
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I didn’t really know what to expect down at the complex. I had only been there once before when it was the common practice to go down there and watch the workouts. There were hundreds of fans, but it had been an incredible day nonetheless. This time, the only people walking around the complex when I arrived were the players. I was armed with a batch of delicious oreo cupcakes that I thought the players, staff, and security guards might appreciate considering it had probably been weeks since they have had homemade goods. 
It didn’t take long for me to feel right at home at the complex: as soon as I walked through the gate and onto the premises, Dustin Richardson gave me a warm welcome. He asked how I was doing, and he even asked me about this website, which he mentioned he had checked out. He was interested in my cupcakes, but declined on one until later. 
There was a practice on every field, so I strolled around taking it all in. I don’t know why, but I felt it would have been weird to take pictures. It just didn’t feel right; I felt like it would have been invasive. 
I sat down on the bleachers and watched some of the Double AA guys take batting practice. Ryan Kalish, Jose Iglesias, Lars Andreson, and Ryan Khoury were among the guys taking swings. I talked to Khoury for a quick second, who remembered me from last time, and he also declined on a cupcake until later. I also caught up with Lars Anderson when he was done, and I’m sure you can guess the first words out of his mouth: “Hey, I like the glasses!” 
We had a bit more time to talk, so I finally told him my name so he would know me as someone other than glasses girl. I also ran into Casey Kelly for a quick second, and I complimented him on his fantastic start against the Rays earlier in the week. 
Then I had the chance to meet Stolmy Pimentel, a highly ranked pitching prospect in the organization. I had a nice time talking to him, and his favorite pitcher is Erwin Santana. I also had the chance to meet Juan Apodaca (his brother, Luis, plays for the Rockies). He was really nice as well, and his favorite catcher is Pudge Rodriguez. 
There was a big bus in the parking lot for the Single A guys, and I noticed Pete Hissey getting on. He was kind enough to stay and talk for a second. I mentioned to him how impressed I had been with him when he had come up, and I gave him one of my cards. 
Ryan Khoury told me that the icing on the cupcake that I gave him was fantastic. Robert Manuel thought they were muffins, but hey, close enough. I also had the chance to talk to Gil Velazquez, who remembered both me and my father from last time. He is rehabbing his broken thumb right now. As I said goodbye to Ryan after talking to him for a bit, I told him I’d be in Portland during July and August, but instead of telling him that I hoped I would see him there, I told him that I hoped that I wouldn’t see him there (because hopefully he’d be at the next level). 
Towards the end of my day there, I had the pleasure of meeting Mike, Kim, and their adorable daughter Elizabeth. They are from Greenville, SC, and it was a pleasure meeting them! They go to nearly every game in Greenville, and they are great baseball fans. 
We left with about fifteen minutes to game time, and let me tell you something, we had the most incredible seats in the world. We were in the first row behind the Red Sox dugout, thanks to John Ruzanski, a security guard in both Fort Myers and in Pawtucket. John is such a great guy, and hopefully I’ll see him over the sumer in Pawtucket. 
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The field was even more breathtakingly beautiful from these seats. John Lackey looked pretty good in his final start of the Spring. It was pretty cool to have seen him in his first start in a Red Sox uniform, and his final tuneup before it counts. After allowing a second inning home run to Jim Thome, Lackey pitched a pretty decent game. Manny Delcarmen, on the other hand, struggled. He lacked both his command and his control, and he hit two batters in his 1.2 innings. Scott Schoeneweis picked up the win, and he looked really solid in his outing. 
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It was my projects who made the difference in this game. They always make me proud. I had seen Ryan Kalish earlier at the complex, so he must have been a last minute call-up. It was so great to see him there though, and he had a nice bloop single. The ladies sitting behind me gave Nate Spears a great nickname: the Nate-er-ator! The Nate-er-ator had a tie-breaking RBI triple.
Since it was Spring Break, my dad and I were able to go to two games in a row, and we spent the night in Fort Myers. That didn’t mean there wasn’t an early wake up call though. City of Palms Park may open at 10:30, but the complex opens even earlier. How could I not go back after the day I had had there? 
The coffee provided at our hotel tasted like brown water, so we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts before heading to the complex. We arrived so early that players were still walking out. I had the pleasure of meeting Dave: a security guard for the Sea Dogs. It was great talking with him. 
As I continued to walk in, Ryan Dent asked why there were no cupcakes today. I watched the Pawtucket Red Sox warm up on their field, and I ran into Kris Johnson. He will be starting the season in Pawtucket, and we are both on a quest to make sure we spell analysis correctly in the future. I also told him that I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I was there. 
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Brock Huntzinger was pitching in a Single A game that day, and we talked for a bit. He is from Indiana, and has been with the organization since 2007. He was a really nice guy, and I look forward to watching him during the year. He had to take the picture since I was too short.
Then I had the chance to meet Derrik Gibson, and we walked across the complex talking. I found out he is from Delaware, which is where my mother was born, and I still have lots of cousins over there. It was great to talk to him, and I told him that he is a project. 
I ran into Dustin again, and I had a nice chat with him walking across the complex. I told him that if I had it my way, he’d be in Boston right now, but I really liked what he had to say. Instead of just saying, something like, “Yeah, I should be in Boston”, he said that he still had stuff to work on in Pawtucket. That really showed me how meticulous he is being with his approach. Still, I told him I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Pawtucket when I’ll be there. I also caught up with Michael Bowden a bit more extensively,and it was great talking with him. Like I’ve said before, he will be up in Boston real soon, potentially even by the time I’m in Boston. He said if he wasn’t that he would be in the stands like last time.
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Then I had the pleasure of meeting Cesare Angeloni, and he showed me how to throw a splitter. He is from Philadelphia, so he grew up a big Phillies fan. He played in the Gulf Coast League and in Lowell last year. He’s really nice, and I look forward to watching that splitter this year. 
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Finally, I ran into Pete Hissey again. He told me that if he wasn’t playing baseball, he probably would have gone to law school. He is primarily an outfielder because he is left handed, and left handed guys can’t play the infield (I had never even thought of that!!). 
With all these guys I’ve met, I’m making a couple additions to the projects. Add Derrik Gibson, Ryan Khoury, Pete Hissey, Cesare Angeloni, Ryne Miller, Adam Mills, and Stolmy Pimentel to the list. 
Then it was time for the final grapefruit league game of the season. I’m sure a bunch of the players are sick of Florida, but the ending of spring training is bittersweet for me. I’ve had an unforgettable time down here. 
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After a shaky first inning, Clay Buchholz pitched a fantastic game. His only problem in the first inning was that he was getting a bit distracted by the runners. It was not only great seeing him, but also meeting his wife, Lindsey. She is so nice, and I wish her and Clay nothing but the best. 
It was great to see a bases clearing double from Jason Varitek (and from the same, incredible seats as well). It was also great to see Reddick get a hit to finish off an incredible spring. Kevin Youkilis even threw me a ball! Sitting behind the dugout, you can hear a lot more things: like the profanities coming out of Dustin Pedroia’s mouth as he comes back into the dugout after getting out. Too bad he hasn’t signed my salsa yet.   
As I bid farewell to Spring Training, I have to give a couple of shout outs. First and foremost, to Merrill, a season ticket holder for both spring training and the regular season. He has been helping us out with tickets since 2008, and he is such a nice guy to watch a ball game with. Another big shout out to Tom, a security guard at the park who helps out the handicapped people. It was great seeing him all Spring. 
I have one more thing before I go. They say that Spring Training statistics don’t matter, but I have some stats of my own: 
Total miles traveled: 1860
Trips made over to Fort Myers: 6 
Hours spent traveling: 30 
Games attended: 6 (including the B game that followed the game on March 13)
Hours spent watching games in person: approx. 17
Autographs: 54
Conversations with prospects: 21 
The pursuit of happiness is priceless. 

Spring Training Odyssey: Pirates vs Red Sox 3/13/10

You guys will be proud of me (or maybe disappointed): I did not trespass onto “private” property, nor did I climb fences nor did I open doors that said “authorized personnel only”. That’s not to say the day wasn’t filled with adventures, stories, and a farmer’s tan. My agenda was much more similar to what you’re used to: autograph hunting. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am not one of those autograph sellers; I am merely a collector. For me, there is a story behind every autograph, and a story behind the baseball that the autograph is on. 

The gates open two-and-a-half hours before the game, and it takes two-and-a-half hours to get to the park. If you do the math right, we had to leave at 8 a.m. to arrive when the gates opened. We parked about a block away from the park outside of a church; the money was benefitting the Salvation Army. We were the first car in the parking lot. 
My normal spot (or should I say, last year’s spot), which was at the corner of this lower level area right next to the dugout was already completely full of fans. I guess I should not have been too shocked considering it was a sold-out game on a Saturday. Hope was not lost though, so I parked myself right behind the dugout. The weather was beautiful, much better than Friday’s, which caused rainouts all across Florida and attacked my car. The sun was shining, and I had of course overestimated my skin’s immunity to sunburns. 
One of my favorite parts about getting autographs is the fans you meet. I had the pleasure of meeting Kip, Julie, and their son Zack. They were down from Massachusetts to see a couple of Red Sox games. We were side-by-side identifying players’ numbers and calling their names. 
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The first autograph of the day was from Mike Cameron. He signed for a lot of people before his turn in the cages. His signature is a work of art. He is surely one of the nicest guys on the team, and he has a big characteristic smile that is indicative of his personality. 
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Then, Marco Scutaro came jogging in, and he signed for about three people. He was in a rush, so it was really nice that he signed. 
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Then I noticed Tug Hulett all the way at the end of the dugout. So I employed my vocal abilities and called to him. He came right over and signed for everyone who wanted a signature. Then he really went beyond his call of duty and literally signed for every single fan down the line in that lower level area. When he came back, he continued to sign for people along the dugout and he even threw bubble gum to a couple of fans. I had never seen anything like it! I told him that I awarded him with the good guy award. 
I spotted Darnell McDonald in the dugout, so I called to him, and he signed for a few people. I also spotted Gil Velazquez in the dugout, so he signed for a few people too. 
Then my sunglasses buddy, Lars Anderson, came back into the dugout after stretches, and after signing for some fans down the line. I knew that he was going to come over because as he was signing down the line, I called his name and he waved. I think it was then that he recognized me because I didn’t even have to say anything at the dugout and he remembered me. Of course we talked about my sunglasses! I told him we could trade, or that he could just have the glasses. As he was walking back into the dugout after he had finished signing, I offered one more time, and he came back up smiling and said that it was OK. 
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The game was about to start, but I wasn’t ready to go back to my seat just yet. One of my friends, Colleen, was at the game, so I finally got the chance to meet her! We became friends on Facebook through this site, actually. Colleen is a fantastic Red Sox fan who made the long trek across the state with her family to see the game. It was so great to meet her, and I hope we can talk for longer next time. Baseball really does bring people together. 
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Clay Buchholz was the starting pitcher, and he looked as confident as I had ever seen him. There was a big difference in his presence on the mound from last year to this year. He truly proved himself during the second half of the season last year, and I think that he belongs in the rotation. His first start of the Spring was a little bit shaky, but like I have said, that is completely normal and to be expected. That was all out of his system, and he had a good, dominant demeanor on the mound, and he simply exuded confidence. He focused on his fastball and changeup, but he also worked on his slider and curveball. He hit his spots for the most part, but you could still notice that he would get a bit discouraged if he walked someone. 
Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Boof Bonser, Brian Shouse, and Michael Bowden also got their work in. Papelbon and Delcarmen looked solid, Boof’s only hiccup was the leadoff home run that he gave up, and Brian Shouse had a nice inning of work. 
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To me, Michael Bowden is at the stage that Clay Buchholz was at last Spring. I don’t think that he fully trusts himself yet, so he is not completely confident. It’s not like he had a bad outing (he only gave up one run), but you could tell that he was struggling a bit. He was missing low, he was more often behind in the count, and he was getting frustrated with men on. He has an interesting delivery that seems to work for him, but he really doesn’t use his legs. I feel like pitchers get a lot of power from those leg kicks, and his kick is more like a step. Then again, he has never had a big leg kick, and when you’re a pitcher, you do what works for you. When I IMG_3680.JPG
Then I walked over to where the pitchers were warming up. Daniel Bard, Robert Manuel, and Casey Kelly were warming up. “Hey, Casey, did you ever tell Kris Johnson how to spell analysis?” I asked. He smiled, laughed, and said, “Yeah, I did!” I then proceeded to thank him for arranging to pitch on Saturdays. 
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Kris Johnson and Kyle Weiland emerged from the bullpen area to warm up. “Hey Kris, have we learned how to spell analysis yet?” I asked. He smiled a bit and said, “Nope”. Kyle asked how I was doing before they started to warm up. After they finished, Kris tossed me the ball. 
The “B” game was a totally different atmosphere. Fans were invited to stay, but only about 200 did. There was not assigned seating, so my father and I sat right behind the dugout. It was really quiet, so you could really hear the echo of the ball being caught, or the crack of the bat against the ball. The scoreboard was off, the concessions were closed–there wasn’t even an umpire. The scene was serene and sacred: I was attending a special sermon at my church, the church of baseball. 
Hideki Okajima, Fernando Cabrera and Daniel Bard looked solid in their outings. Bard has a nice Papelbon-esque stare. Ramon Ramirez pitched well, but he gave up a home run to Nate Spears. 
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Let me talk about Nate Spears for a second. He may not be one of the non-roster invitees this Spring, but I believe that he will be next year. He was fantastic on defense, and he certainly demonstrated power behind the plate. Keep your eye on him during the year.
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Casey Kelly pitched, and he looked real good. He was working quickly and effectively, and he was consistently getting ahead in the count. He also displayed a fantastic breaking ball.  
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One of my favorite moments of that B game was when catching prospect Luis Exposito hit a home run off of Kelly. Like I have said, Exposito has a very powerful bat, and he also has a gun for an arm. I think he has the potential to throw out a lot of runners. 
Robert Manuel pitched and he got ahead of the count, had good pacing and good placement. He pitched excellently. 
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My buddy Kris came in, and his only problem was that he left a couple of pitches up. Other than that, he looked really good. 
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Then Kyle Weiland came in, and I really liked what I saw from him. I like the way he keeps his glove tucked in for his delivery. He knows how to use the corners, he hit his spots, and he exhibited a good fastball. His only problem was that he looked a little uncomfortable pitching from the stretch. 
After the B game, I was able to get three autographs. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who played in the game last Saturday signed. 
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Ryan Khoury was kind enough to sign, and he even posed for a picture with me. I told him that I had seen him in Portland, and that I was excited to see him this year as well. 
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I was also able to get Luis Exposito’s signature, and he posed for a picture as well. We talked about Twitter.  We were the last car to leave. 
Before I end, I need to address some very serious news that the Red Sox released Saturday night. The Red Sox’s top position-player prospect, Ryan Westmoreland, was diagnosed with cavernous malformation in his brain, and will be having brain surgery on Tuesday. This is especially hard for me to hear because I have become somewhat close with him. It is an unprecedented event like this one that makes you realize that there are things beyond baseball. We realize that regardless of whom we root for, we are baseball fans, and we come together to support Ryan. This was out of his control, and all we can do is keep him in our thoughts and prayers. There is not a lot of news out there, so I do not know how soon he will be back on the diamond, but that should not be in any of our minds right now, especially not his. He needs to focus on getting healthy again before he thinks about playing baseball. He has my full support (as he always will), and I truly admire him for his courage. I will always be a fan of his no matter what, and I wish him the best of luck. I actually heard about this via Twitter on my way back from the game. Five minutes after finding out about this, I saw a shooting star. I think you all know what I wished for, and I think I made it on behalf of Major League Baseball fans everywhere. 
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